El Salvador's "Bitcoin Law" went into effect on Tuesday, marking the launch of the historic and controversial bid to make the Latin American country the first in the world to make cryptocurrency officially-recognized money along with the US Dollar.
As for what that actually means, it seems you can now buy a meal at McDonald's in the country's capital with Bitcoin.
"Just walked into a McDonald's in San Salvador to see if I could pay for my breakfast with bitcoin, tbh fully expecting to be told no," Bitcoin Magazine journalist Aaron van Wirdum wrote in a tweet. "But low and behold [sic], they printed a ticket with QR that took me to a webpage with Lightning invoice, and now I'm enjoying my desayuno traditional!"
El Salvador's Bitcoin Law is the brainchild of President Nayib Bukele, a popular millennial leader whose administration is embroiled in corruption controversies. The law mandates that businesses in the country should accept Bitcoin as legal tender, a point that has rankled crypto-defenders with a libertarian streak, and the government is installing ATMs in the country. The government is also rolling out an app for Bitcoin users called the Chivo wallet, which will give $30 in BTC to citizens, but it was beset by technical issues on Tuesday morning.
McDonald's is able to accept Bitcoin using the Lightning network, a payment network for Bitcoin transactions, via OpenNode, a payment processor that previously enabled Substack to accept cryptocurrency payments.
In a statement, an OpenNode spokesperson confirmed that McDonald's locations in El Salvador now accept Bitcoin. The spokesperson also teased further integrations with "multi-billion dollar businesses" that will be unveiled this week.
"OpenNode has worked with all types of large businesses in El Salvador to enable Bitcoin payments in under two months," Julie Landrum, Head of Growth at OpenNode, said in a statement. "From digital wallets to mobile network operators, large retailers to insurance companies, fast food restaurants to industrial firms…OpenNode provides solutions for every type of business, everywhere. The Lighting Network in particular makes every day bitcoin payments efficient and scalable. For countries like El Salvador, Bitcoin represents incredible economic opportunity. We really couldn’t be more thrilled to preview the future, and demonstrate the power of better payments for better money."
Bitcoin's debut as an official currency in El Salvador has been anything but smooth sailing. Protests against the currency have kicked off, and critics have called out the plan as enabling money laundering. Police arrested a prominent critic of the law allegedly without a warrant last week, and Moody's downgraded the country's debt.
A megacorp like McDonald's accepting Bitcoin is no doubt a strange, and to many, exciting, development after years of nearing mainstream awareness. However, there is also the question of why someone would actually want to give away BTC now, which has recently emerged as a speculative investment, for McDonald's. If the currency's value rises, a Happy Meal could end up costing you a lot more than you initially intended.
Update: This article initially stated that Panda Express is accepting Bitcoin in El Salvador, which OpenNode confirmed. After publication, OpenNode reached Motherboard and said that its statement about Panda Express was not accurate. This article has been updated to reflect this. .